Hampton goes dancing
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Tarvis Williams stood by the Hampton bench, his 6-month-old daughter Asya bouncing in his arms, and smiled as he watched his teammates cut the nets down at Richmond Coliseum.
After helping the Pirates reach the NCAA tournament for the first time only six years after they joined Division I, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference player of the year felt like he had it all.
"This was the main focus," he said after scoring 11 of his 18 points in the second half as the Pirates beat defending champion South Carolina State 70-58 in the tournament final to claim an automatic berth into the NCAA field of 65.
"It was nice to get the player of the year and things like that, but it doesn't really mean anything if you don't have something to show for it," Williams said. "This is the main accomplishment right here."
The Pirates (24-6), who split with the Bulldogs this season and tied them for the MEAC regular-season title, opened a 14-point lead early in the second half and never let the Bulldogs (19-13) closer than seven.
Coach Steve Merfeld said he made his goals clear from the start of the season, gathering the team in a room, walking in and standing silently for about 10 minutes until all eyes were focused on him.
"I very calmly said, 'We're going to win a conference championship, and we're going to play in the NCAA tournament in March,'" Merfeld recalled. "Today, these guys made that happen."
Making their first appearance in the championship game, the Pirates played more like savvy veterans in denying South Carolina State a second straight tournament championship and fourth in six years.
The Bulldogs helped with sloppy play and 31 percent shooting.
"We as a group did not come to play," said Bulldogs coach Cy Alexander, whose team won last year with a completely different starting lineup. "We were very tentative. We seemed to not ever get going."
After Andre Riviera opened the second half with a jumper for the Bulldogs, Hampton scored six straight points to take a 36-22 lead.
"We picked a bad day to play our worst game," Alexander said.
Williams, the MEAC player of the year, also had seven of his team's 10 blocked shots and got lots of offensive help as the Pirates shared the scoring load.
LaSean Howard added 15 points and 11 rebounds, Marseilles Brown had 12 points and Tommy Adams had nine.
Brown, who played on the Richmond team that upset third-seeded South Carolina in the first round of the 1998 NCAA tournament, is going back to college basketball's biggest stage after transferring to Hampton.
"It feels better the second time," he said. "The first one was just a shocker. The second one was just harder to get. We had to work harder."
Vincent Whitt led the Bulldogs with 15 points, John Shivers had 10 of his 12 in the second half and Riviera finished with 11.
Shivers hit three 3-pointers in a span of about two minutes to get the Bulldogs within 60-52 with 4:56 to play, but Howard scored the next six points, capping the run with a three-point play.
"At that point, it was basically in control," Merfeld said. "We just needed to play it out, make free throws and be calm."
And when they did, the Pirates were on their way to the NCAA tournament and a likely date with one of the nation's best teams.
"They could send us to the moon and we'd play well right now,"